Opening the doors of access for those seeking mental health care is the single greatest challenge facing the industry today, a panel of experts said Tuesday.
Representatives of Anne Arundel County government, schools, police and area hospitals met Tuesday at Anne Arundel Community College to discuss ongoing problems facing the mental health industry. The group meets annually at the community college to revisit the discussion.
Many panelists said there is a growing population who are unable to readily access the services they need, because the existing workforce is unable to meet that demand.
“It’s extremely difficult to get people immediate access, and I mean within 24 to 48 hours, to a trained mental health professional who can diagnose,” said Frank Sullivan, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency.
Sullivan called the average six-week wait to get patients that kind of access in Maryland “embarrassing.” However, it’s the reality for an industry that’s stretched thin over a growing population of people in need of services.
As bad as that wait is in Maryland, Sullivan said it’s comparable to other states in the country.
“And I’m not bragging—that’s a horror, given what’s going on in other states,” he said.
Dr. Gayle Cicero, director of student services in Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said the sheer size of the county, and the number of agencies involved, works against getting consistent, quality care to students who need help.
“Coordinating is a huge challenge because of the size of our population and the scope of the problem,” she said.
A number of panelists said children, and adolescents in particular, are becoming lost in the mix. Addressing their needs before they reach adulthood could prevent future tragedies, Cicero said, referencing the recent shooting at a school in Newtown, CT that left 26 people dead.
“If we could deal with the problem at ages 4, 5 or 6, we might not be dealing with Newtown shootings,” Cicero said.
Lt. Doyle Batten of the Anne Arundel County Police Department said parents should monitor their children more closely—particularly in terms of how they spend their free time online.
“They’re bringing people into their living room over a headset that they have no idea who their kids are interacting with,” Batten said. “We’re putting our children in front of military-style, assault-weapon armed simulators in our living room and letting them talk and communicate with people all over the world, unfiltered, unfettered, unmonitored.
“As parents, it’s unconscionable,” he said.
Batten is referring to popular video games such as Call of Duty, a first-person shooter where players interact with others online through headsets. Violent threats and accusations made through these channels, and through social media, are often overlooked, but still leave an impression on our children, Batten said.
Batten’s associate, Capt. Ross Passman, said authorities rely on vigilant members of the public to lock down their weapons and ensure they don’t get in the hands of the wrong people, including children and those who may suffer from mental illnesses.
“Right now we need the public to continue to be our eyes and ears and let the police department know when these incidences are occurring,” he said.